Two 5A conference foes came to Montezuma-Cortez High School on Friday and Saturday.
The 4A Panthers looked every bit up to task against Grand Junction Friday night.
After battling back most of the game, Christian Chupp put M-CHS on top 51-50 from downtown at the 3:15 mark.
However, two turnovers and a controversial intentional foul in the final three minutes doomed the Panthers. Grand Junction left Cortez Friday by the skin of its teeth, winning 57-53.
M-CHS had to come back and play Saturday afternoon. An emotionally deflated Panthers squad then fell to first-place Fruita Monument, 53-33.
I think we come out and we just played extremely, extremely flat, M-CHS coach Eric White said Saturday. They pushed us out of our offense away from the hoop. I think my kids kind of buckled under the pressure. They know theyre (Fruita) good. I think they kind of played scared a little bit, too.
The Panthers (10-7, 1-3 5A/4A Southwestern League) struck first Friday when Devin Fox found Destry Smith wide open down low for the deuce. Zach Kiel responded with a layup for Grand Junction (9-6, 2-1 5A/4A SWL) to tie the game. Fox came back with a layup of his own off the inbounds pass to give M-CHS a 4-2 lead.
However, that would be the Panthers last lead of the half. Broderick Robinson would take over in the first quarter for the Tigers.
After Grand Junction tied the game at 4, Robinson hit back-to-back shots to give the Tigers an 8-4 lead. Robinson scored 10 more points in the opening frame to give Grand Junction a 22-14 advantage after one. The Tigers sharpshooter had as many points as M-CHS with 14.
Grand Junction built its biggest lead at 29-18 in the second quarter. But the Panthers stayed within striking distance behind the play of Alex Lopez. The speedy point guard hit two free throws, assisted Brackin Whiteskunk for a 3-pointer, then hit one from downtown at the halftime buzzer. M-CHS just trailed 31-26 at the break.
The Tigers kept their lead in the third quarter, but the home team continued to hang around. Panthers captain Jay Rainer scored eight points in the quarter, including a 3 with four seconds left to bring M-CHS within two points at 44-42.
The Fourth quarter was a back-and-forth battle of wills.
Reserve center Nick Haukeness scored consecutive buckets to give the Panthers a 46-44 lead. But Robinson countered with a tying layup. Each team then traded baskets to keep the game tied at 48.
Robinson put Grand Junction back ahead with a layup, before Chupps huge 3 lifted M-CHS back in front at 51-50.
Unfortunately, that would be the last lead for the Panthers. Trailing 54-53, Chupp fouled Casey Burns on the shot with 34 seconds remaining. What appeared to be a typical shooting foul, the referee deemed it intentional on Chupp. Burns was awarded two free throws and his team retained possession.
It was grabbing of the jersey, said White about why the intentional foul was called. It was just one of those things.
Burns hit 1 of 2 at the line to make the score 55-53. M-CHS had only three fouls and had to foul four times to put Grand Junction in the 1-and-1 bonus. By the time the Panthers got their coveted seventh foul, 25 seconds had run off the clock.
Justin Whiting sank both free throws with nine seconds left for the final margin.
I think we played probably our best four quarters of basketball all year. Too bad we didnt come out on top, White said. Defensively, I thought we played well. Offensively, I thought we played well. You cant change a bad call. I thought we fought back and played well for the most part of the game.
Rainer led M-CHS with 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting.
Robinson had a game high 27 for the Tigers.
On Saturday, the Panthers never lead the entire 32 minutes.
Fruita (13-2, 3-0 5A/4A SWL) was fresh, and M-CHS lacked focus in defeat.
The Wildcats led 29-7 in the second quarter before the Panthers scored the last five points of the half to trail 29-12 at the break. Whiteskunk hit a 3-pointer and then assisted Fox on his 10-foot jumper to build a little momentum.
Although the second half was more even, the 17-point halftime deficit was too great to overcome for M-CHS.
Fruita led by 19 points after three quarters at 44-25 and coasted to the 20-point win. It is the largest margin of defeat at home for the Panthers this season.
Personally, I think we should have took the positives that we had from (Grand) Junction last night and carried it over to now, Fox said. We did come out a little flat and that was partially the reason we lost today.
Smith nearly notched a double-double for the Panthers with 12 points and eight rebounds. Fox and Whiteskunk both scored six.
We got to pick up the intensity. Today was not very intense at all, Fox said. We got to play like we did last night and even more so. We got to pick up the intensity a hundred times, if we want to knock off Durango. Durango is a very good ball club.
M-CHS will face the rival Demons (9-8, 1-3 SWL) on the road Friday at 7 p.m.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at email@example.com.